“AN ANNOUNCEMENT IN THE WILDERNESS”[1]

SERIES: “ANNOUNCEMENTS, ANNOUNCEMENTS, ANNOUNCEMENTS”

MARK 1:1-11

NOVEMBER 29, 2015

Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer

(Play Audio)

 

            I learned a song in my YMCA days as a camp director.  Whenever we had announcements to make, we would begin singing …

 

            Announcements, announcements, announcements! What a horrible death to die, what a horrible death to die, what a horrible death to be talked to death, what a horrible death to die. Announcements, announcements, announcements.

 

            There was some truth to that song. Announcements are not usually the most fun things to sit through. In fact, in church they can be downright boring, especially when they get mangled. One pastor chuckled over a typo that appeared in his church bulletin: Choir rehearsal this afternoon at 3:30. Everyone who wishes to sing in the choir must come to practice.”

          I seriously doubt there is more sinning in the choir than anywhere else, and they certainly don’t need to practice it.

            Not all announcements, however, are horrible. Some announcements are downright exciting, interesting, fun. Announcements like, “I got the job,” or “We are going to be parents,” or “You just won all an expenses paid trip to the Bahamas."

             I mention all this because our advent sermon series has to do with a good, exciting announcement, specifically the announcement about the coming of Christ. It is interesting how each of the Gospels announces that in a different way. Matthew prepares us for Christ’s coming by giving us a list of Jesus’ ancestors all the way back to Adam. Luke begins with an angel announcing the birth to Zechariah. The Gospel of John, written much later than the other Gospels, dispenses with the genealogies and the birth narratives altogether. Instead John goes back all the way to the beginning of time to let us know that Christ was present at creation: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God at the beginning.”

          And then there is the Gospel of Mark. Most scholars believe Mark was the first written Gospel. It is thought that Mark was fearful that those who were witnesses to the coming of Christ would die before anyone prepared a written testimony to Christ’s life. So Mark wrote in a hurry, giving us a bare-bones account of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. So there are no shepherds in Mark’s account. No magi. No genealogies. Neither are there theological reflections as in John. Mark’s Gospel begins like this …

 

            The beginning of the good news of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “See I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”

            John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And the people of the whole countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he hate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

 

            Mark’s introduction to the coming of Christ isn’t angels singing in the heavens or a bright star moving toward Bethlehem. Instead, it is John the Baptist out in the wilderness, and note a couple of things about John’s announcement.  First, note how John may not have grasped the full meaning of his announcement.

            Before we get into that, however, let me say that I’m glad people of the day took John so seriously. After all, he was a strangely dressed fellow with an even stranger diet. I wonder how he would fare today? My guess is, not so well.

            Pastor Dr. Tom Long tells about a church one Sunday morning in Charlotte, N. C. The preacher was just about to open his mouth for the sermon when a man in the balcony, a stranger, a man nobody knew stood up and said in a loud clear voice, I have a word from the Lord.” Heads swiveled around, and whatever this word from the Lord was, no one ever got to hear it because two church ushers bounded up the balcony stairway like gazelles and muscled him out of the sanctuary.”

            I’m not surprised the ushers hustled the man out. Most of us would have considered him a nut, but what if he did have a word from God? What if his message was authentic? We will never know, because the ushers were in a hurry to keep him from disrupting worship. That’s kind of troublesome if you think about it. A person might have a genuine message from God and we might dismiss him as a nut, a radical, a trouble maker. John the Baptist was someone with a genuine announcement from God, and he looked like a nut, a radical, a trouble maker, and thankfully people flocked to him instead of dismissing him.

            Now back to John’s not fully grasping the meaning of his announcement. On the surface, John’s announcement is a little fuzzy. Basically all he says is someone very special is coming after him, someone much more worthy than John himself, someone who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t mention the Messiah. He doesn’t mention the Son of God. No, all he says is someone more worthy than him is coming. Not until later did people connect the dots that the one coming was none other that God in human form.

            John, himself, may not have fully realized the meaning of his announcement. He may have been a little like a little boy named Gabriel Hurles. In January 2009 Gabriel turned six years old. Gabriel was so focused on eating his birthday cake, that he hardly noticed a giant package in the corner of the room. When another child pointed out the large gift, Gabriel ran over and began to tear off the wrapping. When the package was open, Gabriel discovered it wasn’t a bicycle or any of the other items a six-year-old would dream about for his birthday. Rather, it was Gabriel’s dad, Army Specialist Casey Hurles, home on leave from the war in Iraq. Gabriel and his father had been apart for seven months, so when Casey learned his leave would coincide with his son’s birthday, he hatched a plan to offer Gabriel an amazing surprise. He had himself wrapped up as the ultimate birthday gift for his child.

            That’s what God did for us that first Christmas. He offered Himself as an amazing surprise, but John may not have realized the the full implications of that.  Someone great was coming, but did he fully comprehend it to be the God of the Universe packaged, wrapped in human form?

            So we wonder if John fully comprehended the significance of his announcement. But there is a second facet to John’s announcement. John also announced that another baptism was coming, a baptism of the Holy Spirit.

            Baptism, by the way, is one of the most important things that can ever happen to us. It is visible sign that we have joined God’s family.

            I love the way one little girl described it. Before I give you that description, however, we need to remember that out on the cattle ranches of the West the unbranded calves that roam at large are known as mavericks.” They are claimed by the man who is first to get his brand on them at the annual round up. A little Western girl had been baptized one Sunday by a local minister. Her schoolmates questioned her the next day as to the meaning of the ceremony. Well,” she said, I will just tell you. I was a little maverick out on the prairie and that man put the Jesus’ mark on my forehead so that when Jesus sees me He will know that I am one of His children.”

            Well, yes, baptism is something like that. It does mark us as one of God’s children. But it is more than that. It is a sign of new life in Christ Jesus.

           In the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?” three escaped convicts come across a group of people dressed in white. They are singing as they pass through the woods toward the river. The three ne’er-do-wells follow the singers. They come upon a service down by the river where people are lining up to be baptized. One of the convicts rushes into the water to be baptized. When he emerges from the water he exclaims that the minister told him that all his sins have been washed away. Even, he says, when he stole that pig for which he’d been convicted.

            But you said you were innocent of that,” says one of his comrades.

            I lied,” he says, and that’s been washed away too!!”

            And we do see a change in this former scoundrel. His friends later steal an apple pie from a windowsill. But a hand reaches up and leaves money for the apple pie. It is this newly baptized child of God.

            Baptism is more than a ceremony. It is more than a symbol. It is allowing the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit to come into our life and make us new people. There is the baptism of water, but there is also a baptism of the Holy Spirit. That happens when we consciously invite Christ to take up residence in our lives. We often say at this time of the year that we wish the Christmas spirit could stay with us all year long. This is the secret of maintaining the Christmas Spirit. It is to pray that God will send His Holy Spirit to take up a permanent residence in our lives.

            I recently read of a Christmas pageant with a surprise ending.  A certain church was performing Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. At the end of the play, miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is transformed by the meaning of Christmas. He wants to share his newfound joy with someone, so he calls to a poor newsboy, Come up here, boy. I’ve got something wonderful for you.” Out of the audience would come a scruffy newsboy to receive a few coins. But this particular night, another little boy in the audience was so entranced by the story that he spontaneously rose and walked up to the stage when Scrooge made his announcement. He thought the invitation was for him: Come up here, boy. I’ve got something wonderful for you.”

          It is something wonderful and we all are invited to receive it. Let’s not forget to unwrap that big box in the corner today.


[1] Much of message borrowed from a sermon of the same title by King Duncan.